In every biannual best practices report, we ask the same question:

What are the top contributors to change management success?

This question seeks to help us understand and prioritize the parts of our change management approach that are most critical to achieving successful outcomes on our change projects. Well, the 2016 votes are in, and the winners are…

  1. Active and visible executive sponsorship
  2. Structured change management approach
  3. Dedicated change management resources
  4. Integration and engagement with project management
  5. Employee engagement and participation
  6. Frequent and open communication
  7. Engagement with middle managers


Interestingly, these are the same contributors to success identified in the 2014 edition of Best Practices in Change Management, with a few small changes in the order. Here’s the history of the top contributors over time:

Top Contributors to Change Management Success over time

Always #1

Since 1998, the number one contributor to success has remained the same: active and visible executive sponsorship. But wait! Before you nod and think “Yeah, yeah, sponsorship is important, I get it,” stop to consider the significance of this consistency. Since 1998, for nine research studies in a row with over 4,500 participants, sponsorship has remained #1.

Think about where you were in 1998.

In 1998, Google was founded. Clinton was making infamous denials. The Spice Girls ruled. The iMac was unveiled (and the iPhone was still nearly a decade away). I was swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio’s Titanic performance.

Since 1998, the global economy has experienced significant surges and struggles, technology has advanced at an increasing rate, and still, still, sponsorship is number one. This consistency is significant. Also consistent with previous years, sponsorship was #1 by a landslide, cited by participants 3 times more frequently than the #2 contributor.

Bottom line: sponsorship is vastly important, and will be for a very long time. Having trouble engaging your senior leaders? 

Integration and communication

The only other change to the contributors from 2014 was a slight move up of integration with project management (from #6 to #4) and a slight move down of frequent and open communication (#4 to #6). Does this mean that frequent and open communication is now less important? No. Communication has been a top contributor since 2000, and we all know from experience how critical it is.

In my experience, the practice of effective integration between change management and project management has become more common in recent years. In fact, integration with project management only appeared as a top contributor for the first time in the 2014 report, so it is relatively new to the list. As organizations integrate change management and project management more, and with more sophistication, the benefits become clearer, and so its status as a contributor to success is on the rise.

A Precursor to Success

This year, participants did call out an important secondary contributor to success: Because we asked about the contributors to change management success, many participants identified that without an organizational awareness of the what and why of change management, implementing the top contributors proved difficult. Building the awareness of the need for change management was foundational. Demonstrating the ROI of change management, articulating the business case for change management, and citing the potential of improved project success all helped to build this awareness.

What this means for you

The top contributors help us prioritize. Just because an aspect of change management doesn’t show up on this list, say conducting a readiness assessment, does not mean it’s not an important part of a change management approach. However, when we have limited time and resources, these contributors help guide how we use our energy to get the most bang for our buck. If you run into resistance to an element of your change management approach, for example "we don't have time to egage employees," pull out this finding list. 

History tells us that, if we want successful change, employee engagement is non-negotiable.

Here’s to continued successful change.


Best Practices in Change Management - 2018 Edition Executive Summary

Written by
Susie Taylor-Patterson
Susie Taylor-Patterson

Susie Taylor-Patterson combines years of helping private and public sector organizations develop their change management capabilities with a deep knowledge of Prosci’s research and approach. She leads Prosci’s new development portfolio with a goal of equipping leaders, practitioners, and change agents with the most effective skills and tools to optimize their change results.